Mall singer touches hearts across Japan, overseas
Oct. 3, 2017
Singer Yoshiko Hanzaki, also known as the "diva of the mall," has been performing in shopping centers for over 17 years. Her music is resonating with a wide audience, even people overseas.
A crowd has gathered at a shopping mall for a concert by Hanzaki. The 36-year-old singer has performed in over 200 malls around Japan. "Your lunch box might not have all of your favorites, I'm sorry, but that's because I care about your health," she sings.
Hanzaki talks with shoppers and listens to their everyday worries and concerns, then channels them into her music. "Sakura, as cherry blossom petals fly in the sky, I wish I could send you the dream we chased together," she sings in a song about a person who has passed on.
"It speaks to me directly. The lyrics echo my own feelings and that makes me cry." "I've been so depressed recently. During the concert, I got choked up and started crying. After going through that, I feel like I can move forward," say people in the audience.
After the performance, the audience waits in line to tell Hanzaki their stories. "I lost my daughter, so it really touched my heart," a woman tells her. Hanzaki sometimes spends more than 3 hours talking with audience members. "We shake hands and everyone gets very emotional. I feel like I've made a strong connection with them," she says.
Hanzaki was inspired to reach out to people through her music after receiving a letter several years ago. It came from a mother who had lost her son in a car accident. The mother talked about how she carried her grief even as she tried to move on. Hanzaki has re-read the letter many times. "I had these feelings caught up inside me for a long time. One day, they suddenly came out as music. Instead of just saying "Be strong," I tried to write a song like I was right there beside her. By doing that, I thought I could support her a little more," says Hanzaki.
Hanzaki’s music has also started to find an audience overseas. A Taiwanese TV station ran a story about her, including translations of her lyrics. It drew a strong response from viewers. The broadcast gave Hanzaki an opportunity to perform overseas for the first time. Naturally, the venue was a shopping mall. Even in Taiwan, Hanzaki sings in Japanese. But many people have come to hear her perform.
Huang Wen-Yi and her husband Chen Chih-Chun traveled for an hour to get here. They wanted to hear Hanzaki's songs live. The couple lost their daughter, Chen You-Jen, 2 years ago. A blood disease claimed her life when she was 8 years old. Several days before she died, she asked her mother to help record her voice in her hospital room. "Don't worry about me. I am a strong girl," she says in the recording.
"My daughter was acting like she was OK," says Huang. "I can't bear it. I can't stop crying," says her husband. Two years on, they are still struggling to come to terms with You-Jen's death. They have left her room untouched. While they were in deep mourning, they happened to hear Hanzaki’s song on the TV. "There are times when facing forward can be hard enough," Hanzaki sang.
Huang felt like the words were written especially for her. "When you're truly sad, you can't look forward. This song gets close to my wounded heart," she says. Huang sent Hanzaki a message to show her gratitude. She said she was touched by the singer's music and hoped someday she could hear it live. Then she received an unexpected reply. It said Hanzaki was performing in Taiwan and would like to meet her.
The day of the concert, Hanzaki invited Huang backstage. "I was deeply moved by your songs. Your songs heal me. Please keep singing," Huang tells Hanzaki.
NHK's Taipei Bureau Chief Wakako Takada joins Newsroom Tokyo anchors Hideki Nakayama and Aki Shibuya.
Shibuya: It's great to see that her music is crossing borders.
Takada: Yes, in fact, Wen-Yi and her husband are planning to visit Tokyo next month to attend one of Hanzaki’s concerts. It’s their first overseas trip since their daughter died 2 years ago. It seems Hanzaki's songs are not only bringing comfort, but also bringing people from different countries together.
Nakayama: Covering this story, what was your impression of Hanzaki?
Takada: Hanzaki looked calm at first, but as I got to know her, I found out she's very sensitive to other people’s feelings. And she's great at expressing those feelings through her songs. Her lyrics really resonate with listeners. At the concert in Taiwan, translations were handed out to the audience. People I spoke to said Hanzaki’s songs made them think of someone special, or brought back precious memories.